Tuesday, December 13, 2011

John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe also spelled Wyclif, Wycliff, Wiclef, Wicliffe, or Wickliffe) (c. 1328 – December 31, 1384) was an English Scholastic philosopher, theologian, lay preacher, translator, reformer and university teacher who was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. His followers were known as Lollards, a somewhat rebellious movement, which preached anticlerical and biblically-centred reforms. The Lollard movement, was a precursor to the Protestant Reformation (for this reason, Wycliffe is sometimes called "The Morning Star of the Reformation"). He was one of the earliest opponents of papal authority influencing secular power. Wycliffe was also an early advocate for translation of the Bible into the common language. He completed his translation directly from the Vulgate into vernacular English in the year 1382, now known as Wycliffe's Bible. It is probable that he personally translated the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and it is possible he translated the entire New Testament, while his associates translated the Old Testament. Wycliffe's Bible appears to have been completed by 1384, with additional updated versions being done by Wycliffe's assistant John Purvey and others in 1388 and 1395.
Wycliffe's Early Life Wycliffe was born in the factory village of modern-day Hipswell in the North Riding of Yorkshire, England in the mid-1320s. His family was long settled in Yorkshire. The family was quite large, covering considerable territory, principally centred around Wycliffe-on-Tees, about ten miles to the north of Hipswell.

Wycliffe received his early education close to his home. It is not known when he first came to Oxford, with which he was so closely connected until the end of his life, but he is known to have been at Oxford around 1345. He was influenced by Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, Thomas Bradwardine, William of Occam, and Richard Fitzralph.

Wycliffe owed much to William of Occam's work and thought. He showed interest in natural science and mathematics, but applied himself to studying theology, ecclesiastical law, and philosophy. His opponents acknowledged the keenness of his dialectic, and his writings prove he was well grounded in Roman and English law, as well as in native history.[citation needed]

During this time there was conflict between the northern (Boreales) and southern (Australes) "nations" at Oxford. Wycliffe belonged to Boreales, in which the prevailing tendency was anticurial, while the other was curial. Not less sharp was the separation over Nominalism and Realism. He mastered most of the techniques.

Wycliffe became deeply disillusioned both with Scholastic theology of his day and also with the state of the church, at least as represented by the clergy. In the final phase of his life in the years before his death in 1384 he increasingly argued for Scriptures as the authoritative centre of Christianity, that the claims of the papacy were unhistorical, that monasticism was irredeemably corrupt, and like the Donatist heresy one thousand years earlier, that the moral unworthiness of priests invalidated their office and sacraments.

Wycliffe and the Bible-Some members of the nobility possessed the Bible in French, and some portions of the Bible had been translated into English as early as the seventh century under the auspices of the Catholic Church. While Wycliffe is credited, it is not possible exactly to define his part in the translation, which was based on the Vulgate. There is no doubt that it was his initiative, and that the success of the project was due to his leadership. From him comes the translation of the New Testament, which was smoother, clearer, and more readable than the rendering of the Old Testament by his friend Nicholas of Hereford. The whole was revised by Wycliffe's younger contemporary John Purvey in 1388. Thus the cry of his opponents may be heard: "The jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity."

In spite of the zeal with which the hierarchy sought to destroy it due to mistranslations and erroneous commentary, there still exist about 150 manuscripts, complete or partial, containing the translation in its revised form. From this, one may easily infer how widely diffused it was in the fifteenth century. For this reason the Wycliffites in England were often designated by their opponents as "Bible men." Just as Luther's version had great influence upon the German language, so Wycliffe's, by reason of its clarity, beauty, and strength, influenced the English language as the King James Version (which borrowed heavily from Wycliffe's New Testament translation) was later to do.

Wycliffe as a Preacher-Wycliffe aimed to do away with the existing hierarchy and replace it with the "poor priests" who lived in poverty, were bound by no vows, had received no formal consecration, and preached the Gospel to the people. These itinerant preachers spread the teachings of Wycliffe. Two by two they went, barefoot, wearing long dark-red robes and carrying a staff in the hand, the latter having symbolic reference to their pastoral calling, and passed from place to place preaching the sovereignty of God. The bull of Gregory XI impressed upon them the name of Lollards, intended as an opprobrious epithet, but it became, to them, a name of honour. Even in Wycliffe's time the "Lollards" had reached wide circles in England and preached "God's law, without which no one could be justified."